Ukraine Situation Report: “We’re Staying In This” Biden Says As He Signs Lend-Lease Bill
The new Lend Lease program came into effect after Putin marked Russia’s World War II Victory Day with no victory in Ukraine.
U.S. President Joe Biden signed the Ukraine Democracy Defense Lend-Lease Act into law today, evoking the World War II-era Lend-Lease program in the process. This followed Russia's marking of the anniversary of the Soviet Union's defeat of Nazi Germany earlier today, where the country's President Vladimir Putin could offer no victory in the current war in Ukraine as he presided over a muted parade in Moscow.
"The cost of the fight is not cheap, but caving to aggression is even more costly," Biden said before signing the bill into law. "That's why we're staying in this."
In his brief remarks at the signing ceremony, Biden also cited Europe's defeat of fascism during World War II, which the United States and others mark with Victory in Europe Day on May 8, as well as noting that "Putin's war" is "once more bringing wanton destruction to Europe." The U.S. President added that May 9 also marked the anniversary of the Schuman Declaration in 1950, named after then-French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman, which is cited as the first step toward the eventual formation of the European Union.
The Ukraine-focused Lend-Lease law eases certain requirements on the leasing of weapons and other military equipment to the country. If nothing else, the World War II connotations certainly make the legislation highly symbolic, especially when considering how much American assistance helped fuel the Soviet Union's war effort against the Nazis. At the same time, it remains to be seen exactly what impact this will have on the torrent of aid already flowing to the Ukrainian armed forces, given its more limited provisions and existing authorities available to the U.S. government, as you can read more about here.
The law's symbolic nature is perhaps magnified given that it comes into force on Russia's Victory Day, which had drawn much more international attention than normal this year given the circumstances. However, with no clear-cut successes in Ukraine to point to, Putin mostly reiterated long-standing justifications for the invasion of Ukraine and grievances with the West during his speech at the annual Victory Day parade in Moscow. Despite prior speculation, the Russian President did not announce a general mobilization of the country's armed forces or formally declare war on the whole of Ukraine.
The parade itself was a much lower-key affair than expected, with the air show component canceled entirely ostensibly due to bad weather. The Russian Military's Chief of the General Staff, Gen. Valery Gerasimov, the country's top military officer, was notably absent from the event, as well. This is only likely to fuel still unconfirmed reports that he was at least injured during a visit to the frontlines in Ukraine in April.
The fighting in Ukraine is ongoing, but Russian forces are still struggling to make any significant gains in the eastern and southeastern ends of the country, and have lost ground in the north. Ukrainian defenders continue to hold out in the Azovstal steel works in the strategic southern port city of Mariupol, denying Russia's military the ability to claim a total victory there.
Separately, a senior U.S. military official said today that Russian forces do not appear to currently have the capacity to threaten an assault on Ukraine's Black Sea port of Odesa. That came right before a new round of missile strikes targeting the region.
WARNING: Some of the updates below contain graphic material.
The War Zone readers can first get more fully up to speed on what has transpired in the course of the conflict in Ukraine already through our preceding rolling coverage here.
POSTED: 5:10 PM EST—
Biden signed the Ukraine Democracy Defense Lend-Lease Act at a ceremony today at the White House. Also in attendance were Vice President Kamala Harris, Senator Ben Cardin, a Maryland Democrat, and Representatives Elissa Slotkin and Victoria Spartz, a Democrat from Michigan and a Republican from Indiana.
A senior U.S. defense official had said earlier today that there is still $100 million worth of previously authorized aid to be delivered to Ukraine. They added that 85 of 90 155mm M777 towed howitzers and 20 of at least 121 Phoenix Ghost loitering munitions have been transferred to the Ukrainian armed forces, and that a growing number of the country's military personnel have now been trained to use both.
The U.S. military has now provided still-unspecified electronic warfare systems to Ukrainian forces, as well.
All of this followed Russia's annual Victory Day parade in Moscow, as well as other smaller events across the country. Putin's remarks at the event, which was otherwise largely un-noteworthy, were much less fiery than many experts and observers had expected. His speech was almost entirely limited to reiterating past justifications for why Russia was 'forced' to invade Ukraine, owing to purported threats posed by its much smaller neighbor.
Putin notably did not make any new explicit or implicit threats to use nuclear weapons, or otherwise expand the conflict outside of Ukraine. Though the Russian President did not use the term "special military operation," as Russian officials have referred to the fighting in Ukraine, he also did not refer it to as a war and did not announce a broad mobilization of the country's military, as many had expected he might. A senior U.S. defense official did say today that there were indications that the ostensibly private Russian military company known as Wagner, which has strong ties to Russia's intelligence services, had been trying to source thousands of additional personnel to support operations in Ukraine's eastern Donbas region.
Reports that ads had appeared today on the Moscow Metro promoting short-term contracts with the Russian military following the parade, suggesting authorities were pursuing an alternative to a general mobilization, are false. Pictures of those ads had emerged online back in April.
A picture of a purported official mobilization notice that emerged online over the weekend appears to have been photoshopped, as well.
At the time of writing, Chief of the General Staff Gerasimov's absence does not appear to have been explained officially. It remains unconfirmed whether or not he suffered any injuries at all during his recent visit to the Ukrainian battlefield. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, who was at the parade today, had also disappeared from the public eye for more than a week earlier in the conflict amid still-unconfirmed reports that he had suffered a heart attack. Largely anonymously sourced reports of upheaval within Russia's military and internal security apparatuses over the poor performance of the country's forces in Ukraine have continued to emerge.
There is also an unconfirmed possibility that one of three T-14 Armata main battle tanks that were due to take part in today's parade may have broken down, resulting in its exclusion from the parade. Video had emerged in 2015 showing a T-14 breaking down ahead of the Victory Day parade that year, the first to feature any of these tanks. The Russian military notably does not appear to have deployed any Armatas to take part in the fighting in Ukraine so far, despite having employed other advanced or rare prototype tanks in the country.
A smaller Victory Day parade in the Russian city of Yekaterinburg featured military personnel wearing armbands emblazoned with the letter "Z," one of a number of markings Russian forces have used to differentiate themselves from Ukrainian forces during the conflict. It has also become a general symbol of support for the war.
Interestingly, the Russian state television outlet Russia-24 televised Victory Day events across the country, but used Soviet-era names for various cities instead of their current ones. Yekaterinburg, for instance, was labeled as Sverdlovsk during the broadcast.
Activists dumped red paint on Russia's ambassador to Poland as he went to lay flowers at the graves of fallen Soviet soldiers in the country and chanted "fascists" in protest.
Perhaps most importantly, Putin's Victory Day remarks this year are a tacit admission that Russian forces in Ukraine have made at best minimal gains since they first rolled into Ukraine on February 24, and that renewed offensives in the eastern and southern ends of the country have failed to produce any major progress in the past three weeks. A senior U.S. defense official said today that Ukrainian forces have actually been able to recently push Russian forces back around 30 miles from their previous positions in the northern Kharkiv region.
The senior U.S. defense official added that an over-reliance on artillery, mud caused by the spring thaw, continuing logistics issues, and reports that Russian units were outright refusing to carry out orders, had all contributed to the Russian military's sluggish progress. The U.K. Ministry of Defense made similar assessments about the state of Russia's forces yesterday.
The Russian military failed in its apparent attempt to fully secure the strategic southern port city of Mariupol in the week leading up to Victory Day, which would have provided at least one tangible success, no matter how pyrrhic. Instead, Ukrainian defenders continue to hold out in the sprawling Azovstal steel works complex.
Bohdan Krotevych, a major in the National Guard of Ukraine and chief of staff of the Azov Regiment, who is among those leading operations from Mariupol's last defensive bastion, told The War Zone today that he and others are "still fighting" despite the ever-growing hardships they face. You can read more about the situation at Azovstal in our two previous exclusive interviews with Krotevych.
A senior U.S. defense official said today that Russia's military has "no ability" to actively threaten to capture the Ukrainian Black Sea port of Odesa. This follows reports of Ukrainian attacks on Russian forces on Zmiinyi Island, or Snake Island, in the western end of the Black Sea.
Stunning video footage, reportedly taken by cameras on Turkish-made Bayraktar TB2 drones, emerged over the weekend showing those drones, as well as fixed-wing combat aircraft striking targets on the Ukrainian island, which was occupied at the very beginning of the war. You can read more about these strikes here.
One of these videos shows an Mi-8/Mi-17 Hip-type helicopter reportedly being destroyed by a Ukrainian TB2. Personnel taking up defensive positions around the helicopter are also visible in the clip, which had prompted speculation that this was actually a Ukrainian helicopter bringing in part of a force to retake the island. There are, of course, reasons why Russian troops might take up this posture despite already having ostensible control over the island, as well.
Regardless, any Ukrainian attempt to raid or recapture the island remains entirely unconfirmed. The Russian military has provided no evidence to support its claims to have destroyed multiple fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters, as well as Centaur class assault craft, that attempted to recapture the island. There are separate reports that the death of a Ukrainian naval helicopter pilot, Col. Ihor Bedzai, which has been widely shared online as circumstantial evidence that a Ukrainian helicopter was blown up on Snake Island, was the result of an Mi-14 helicopter going down in what may have been an entirely unrelated incident.
Odesa does continue to be at risk of Russian air and missile strikes.
A senior U.S. defense official said today that the Russian military has now "blown through" much of its stockpile of precision-guided missiles. They added that western sanctions were having an impact on the country's ability to restock those weapons quickly. These assessments were echoed by the U.K. Ministry of Defense in a daily update released earlier in the day.
Still, Ukrainian authorities do claim that Russian authorities are continuing to work toward at least more closely integrating occupied areas with Russia proper.
Ukraine's own Victory Day also falls on May 9. Ukrainian President Zelensky made one of his now charactertistic video addresses while walking the streets of Kyiv to mark the occasion. "We won then. We will win now," he said, adding later that “very soon, there will be two Victory Days in Ukraine."
Yesterday, U.S. First Lady Dr. Jill Biden visited the Ukrainian city of Uzhhorod, which lies just over the country's western border with Slovenia, primarily to mark Mother's Day with Ukrainian First Lady Olena Zelenska. A large motorcade carried Dr. Biden and her entourage to the event, which was held at a public school that is temporarily housing dozens of people, including children, displaced by the conflict.
U.S. officials made their first trip to the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv on Sunday, as well. This did not reflect the formal re-opening of the Embassy, which is still expected to occur soon, but rather the arrival of a delegation to join the Ukrainian government in marking the country's own Victory Day. Air raid sirens reportedly went off right after the American personnel drove into the compound, underscoring the countined risks of Russian air and missile strikes on the Ukrainian capital.
The picture reportedly below shows a British-supplied Brimstone missile that failed to detonate after being fired in Ukraine's southern Zaporizhzhia region.
The picture below shows a Ukrainian soldier with a Lithuanian-made EDM4S-UA portable anti-drone jamming system. The "gun" portion is modeled after the German-made Heckler and Koch G36 rifle, which is presently the standard infantry rifle in Lithuania. These were first seen in use in Ukraine in 2021.
Over the weekend, the U.S. announced new sanctions related to the Ukraine conflict targeting Russian shipping companies.
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